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Père-version: Christine Angot's Incest translated by Tess Lewis

Joanna By Joanna Published on February 18, 2018
Incest is the book in which I present myself as a real shit, all writers should do it at least once, after that, we’ll see. Or maybe they should do it several times, or maybe do nothing but that. Writing may only be doing that, showing one’s inner shit.” 

French author Christine Angot's Incest, translated by Tess Lewis, is a difficult and provocative work. Though Angot has rejected the term autofiction for her works at different times, it seems an apt term for the first-person narrative by a narrator, Christine, which seems to hover between autobiography, fiction and sensationalism. The reader must construct a coherent narrative from the narrator’s non-linear confession while attempting to distinguish fact from fiction in the narrator’s account and separating the thoughts and feelings of the narrator from those of the author. Angot does not offer any neat answers. 

The first section is a hysterical stream of consciousness account which details the narrator’s falling out with a same-sex lover for unknown reasons (later illuminated) and her own related identity struggles. The narrator describes her own homosexuality as a temporary affliction, homophobically self-analysing herself with Freud’s anachronistic theories of innate bisexuality. Angot’s narrator, Christine, links intimate moments with her lover, Marie-Christine, with anecdotes about her daughter while comparing her relationship with her lover to locked-in syndrome, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the AIDS epidemic. Buried inside this deluge is a single sentence mentioning that the narrator had seduced her father.

The later sections of the book proceed in a more linear fashion, litigiously organised with specific dates, places, and headings. The second section exposes the events which led to the end of Christine’s love affair with Marie-Christine in excruciating detail before dissolving into definitions related to the narrator's own self-analysis, demonstrating how the trauma of incest exceeds the clinical definitions. In the final section of the novel, the narrator recalls memories from her adolescence in cold, clinical detail, a time during which she had a semi-consensual sexual relationship with her father. Marie-Christine mentions to Christine that Lacan had called perversion père-version. The uncomfortable personal dynamics – cycles of fascination, disgust, ambivalence and rejection – in her relationship with her lover are an echo of the narrator’s relationship with her father. A cancelled trip to Carcassonne with her father is equated with the precariously negotiated failed vacation to Rome with her lover, which ended their affair. The questions of desire and consent are not easily resolved in the narrator’s account of her simultaneous seduction and abuse.

Angot’s Incest uses the titular sex crime to explore a variety of relationships – between writer and subject, mother and daughter, husband and wife, lovers, family and outsiders, and cultural producer and consumer. Keenly aware of the limited market of her books, the narrator describes the act of writing as “a kind of rampart against insanity,” but the degree of sensationalism is unclear. How much does the narrator change for the public’s view? How much of the novel is a cynical manipulation of incest trauma to generate media coverage and book sales? Or is Christine a victim of both sexual abuse and voyeurism? 

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Joanna has twice won certificates of honour (and a free beer) for demonstrating “extraordinary courage against the unsurmountable Phaal”, a ludicrously spicy curry.